I'm back, baby! I'm sorry this took so long, but I'm a semester away from finishing my physics degree and they'll only let me graduate if I actually pass everything. I'm going to try to get at least one more chapter out before school starts again, but my dad broke his foot and I'm going to have to help him with his work and life in general. I'm really sorry, but I swear, I'm not giving up on this. So please be patient with me!
Mille grazie to my betas, Kat and Nanda, who waited and waited and waaaaaited and never, ever said, "So, are you actually writing the chapter or what?" And, of course, mille mille grazie to Niamh, who only said, "So, are you actually writing the chapter or what?" about three or four times. ;)
Title and epigraph are from "Criminal," by Fiona Apple.
I've been a bad, bad girl
I've been careless with a delicate man
And it's a sad sad world
When a girl will break a boy
Just because she can
The first time she saw him, he did not see her.
She'd gone to sit quietly in one of her favorite places, a shady spot by a cleft in a rocky wall where a stream spilled into a pool. Kikyo tucked herself behind a bush on a tuft of grass and closed her eyes. Today she'd taken Kaede into the village for supplies. As she'd walked down the street, a silence had gathered and spread in her wake, until it was almost deafening. When she'd looked behind her, she'd seen people drop their gazes nervously, avoiding her eyes, or worse, meet her gaze with a mixture of fear and awe on their faces. Even the young men, who until recently had still looked at her with an interest not wholly spiritual, now gazed at her with a reverence more suited to an idol, or a statue.
She reached up, cradling the lucent jewel at her throat. It's because of this. The villagers had only a faint idea of what she'd been entrusted, but the rumors were spreading anyway. Youkai attacks had already increased sharply. To make matters ridiculous, Kaede had mentioned that recently villagers or travelers had attempted to buy things from her: the chopsticks Kikyo had used the night before, or an old haori they were planning to tear up for rags.
It made Kikyo want to scream, but the temptation was overridden by remembering Kumiko. Even now, she could almost hear the old miko's croak. "We walk paths they can't travel, sense things they can't feel. Of course they're afraid of us. But they need us more than they fear us."
A loud crash startled her, and she reached down automatically for the bow and arrows she now never left behind. A man -- a youth, she corrected herself, he didn't appear to be much older than she was -- hurtled into view. The silver hair and youki flare made her narrow her eyes. Youkai. Here. She nocked an arrow slowly, trying not to draw attention to herself.
Another crash echoed off the rocks, rippling the water in the pond. A huge, torn-eared neko youkai burst through the trees, a snarl rumbling in its throat. "Come back here, you fucking hanyou brat!"
"Lemme alone!" the youth yelled back. "I didn't touch your fuckin' turf! I wouldn't piss on it!"
Hanyou? Kikyo peered more closely through the bush, traitorous curiosity swelling in her breast. The neko youkai charged him and he leapt aside, allowing her a clear view. Her breath stopped. He's....
The neko youkai wheeled and charged again, slashing with his claws. Individual words were almost lost in the roar. "Weak piss-ant bastard!"
The youth turned at bay a few feet away from Kikyo's hiding place. "I have a name!" he screamed, and tore into his pursuer. Seconds later, the huge creature lay at his feet, reduced to so much raw meat. He stood over it, head bowed and shoulders shaking. Blood dripped from his fingers onto the grass.
It seemed ludicrous, but she wasn't afraid. Instead, she wanted to slip out to him, to take his hand in hers. She wanted to tell him, I know. They never include you. You never belong. But she didn't move. After a long moment, he vanished into the trees.
Kikyo stood up slowly as she felt his youki fade into the distance, gazing into the trees as if she could still see him. He'll come for the jewel. I know it. But I will not kill him. I want him to live.
I want to know his name.
Kagome stood at the edge of the clearing in which the small group had settled for the evening, gazing toward the small stream running past. She knew she should feel distressed, even scared. Her idea to enlist Sesshoumaru's help was less of a brilliant stroke and more of a plan born of desperation. There wasn't even any guarantee they'd find him; after all, the only thing she knew about the demon lord was that he ruled "the Western Lands," wherever those were. So they were wandering west, hoping to trip over him, gambling on the fact that he'd be curious about why his brother's humans were here without his brother. How would he respond? Would he be angry? Would he slaughter them, taking Tetsusaiga for his own? She knew she should be concerned with these things, but she couldn't bring herself to care.
All of her mind and heart and soul were focused on the flickering energy she could feel burning within, the golden glow that said "Inuyasha." She knew instinctively that it was supposed to be a warm tawny light, and she'd tried to warm it with her own energy, brushing her powers against it. But she couldn't tell if it was helping. Don't go out, she whispered to him silently. Don't go out. I need you.
The dimmer he grew, the more time Kagome spent indulging in the memories that were now hers. They slipped through her mind like beads down a string, clear and distinct. She knew she should focus on the situation at hand, but it was almost impossible to tear herself away. They were so private, so intimate. These were memories never intended for the intrusion of a third party, but there she was, feeling her own pulse trip in time to that remembered breathlessness.
She remembered the first time she'd coaxed him from the woods, a process that had taken days of patient, near-motionless sitting in the grassy clearing by a well so old, no one living remembered when it had last been used. It was the same technique that Kumiko had taught her to feed birds from seed in her palm. "When you wish to touch something wild," the old woman had said, "you must convince it that you do not wish to tame it." At first, he'd only watched her from the safety of the underbrush, golden eyes gleaming in the shadows. But slowly, he'd approached her, half-defiant and half-arrogant. It was the same look, she remembered, that he'd worn when he taunted her from the tree, fifty years later.
Yes, that look was the same. It always had been, and likely always would be. But other things had changed. On that last evening, when their plans had been made, when their future together had seemed assured... That was the evening he'd poled them back in to the village in the small boat. The evening the sun had dyed the sky the crimson of his haori and her hakama. The evening she'd stumbled over the loose plank in the dock. She, who never stumbled. And he'd caught her, arms closing about her reflexively. The warmth of his body had driven the air from her lungs more than the impact of being caught. One long asking look had passed between them, and then... She thought she remembered the pole clattering on the dock next to them, but she couldn't be sure. All she remembered was the warmth of his lips against hers, and the fact that he had trembled harder than she had.
How different from that almost-kiss under their tree. There had been nothing shy or hesitant about him then. When his hand had closed around her wrist, when he'd drawn her towards him, there had been no question, no permission asked. He'd simply done it -- until she pushed him away.
That broke Kagome's heart a little further: realizing her treasured kiss from her dream Inuyasha wasn't hers. It was Kikyo's kiss, filtered and replayed as a sop to her brokenhearted reincarnation. But although it sharpened the pain in her heart, she couldn't bring herself to stop reliving that kiss over and over again. It might be the only time in her lifetime -- either lifetime -- she would kiss Inuyasha. Letting it go simply wasn't possible. Kagome swallowed, tears stinging her eyes. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I wish I could bring her back for you, but all I could do was put her to rest. Please, just come back, and I'll... I don't know what I can do to make it up to you, but I'll try, I swear.
"Kagome?" She refrained from jumping as Shippo landed on her shoulder, one paw locking around the lapel of the white haori she had begun to wear. He patted her face anxiously with the other. "Are you okay? You look kind of pale."
"Sorry. I guess I'm a little dazed from... everything."
Sango looked up from where she'd been piling firewood neatly in the circle of cleared earth under Kirara's supervision. "If you need to go back to the village," she began.
Kagome shook her head. "No, we have to do this." She knelt by her pack and began digging through the supplies that were left. Shippo scrambled down to rest his head against her knee. "Something from here is okay, right?"
"Of course," Miroku said.
A small smile crept onto her face. "Well, I wasn't sure if there was something else you guys wanted...." Her hand closed on a cup of noodles and she froze. That's right. I put extra ramen in the bottom where Inuyasha wouldn't see it. It was a surprise. She drew the container out and stared at it, feeling a fresh stab of pain.
Miroku and Sango exchanged a worried look over the oblivious girl's head. "Maybe something else...?" Miroku suggested, as Sango placed a gentle hand on Kagome's shoulder.
"No," she said softly. "It's just ramen. I can always get more." Miroku stooped and took the container away from her.
"I'll just get this started, then." He knelt next to the wood Sango had stacked and took a match from Kagome, lighting the fire with the skill of practice.
"I'll get some water," Sango volunteered. She picked up the bamboo canteen and headed for the stream. Kagome pulled a few more cups of ramen out before beginning to rearrange the whole pack, dispassionately noting what they had and what they didn't. Shippo held items or handed them back as she needed. Miroku accepted the water Sango brought and poured it into their small iron pot, setting it in the embers to boil. Sango bit her lip, looking at Kagome's still form, then glancing back at Miroku. He nodded.
"You know, Kagome-sama," he began in a casual voice. "I don't really understand why we can't ask Kouga for help. Surely he'd be the safer choice."
Sango nodded, sitting down near her friend, a careful arm's length from Miroku. Kirara leapt into Sango's lap, letting out a soft, trilling purr. "I've been wondering that myself. He'd probably complain about having to find Inuyasha, but..."
Kagome shook her head. "I don't trust him."
Miroku gaped at her. "I'm sorry?"
"You don't... trust him?" Sango echoed. "Kagome-chan, he'd do anything for you. I know he's not very fond of Inuyasha, but...."
"He didn't hurt us the first time he had us in his cave," Shippo piped. "You trusted him then."
"And if you don't trust him, why on earth did I let you go off with him?" Miroku smiled lopsidedly at Kagome, trying to cajole her into smiling back.
Kagome pushed her bangs back, mouth curving reflexively in return. "That was different. Those kids needed me. I had to do that, no matter what." And I understand why a little better now. "But... Kouga-kun keeps calling me his woman. And it's like... if Inuyasha weren't around...."
"Ah." Miroku nodded slowly in comprehension.
"I'm not saying he'd do it on purpose," Kagome said, voice still quiet. "I don't think he's that cruel. He knows Inuyasha is important to me."
"But the temptation is there." Sango fiddled with one of the ramen cups distractedly. "All he'd have to do is maybe not look very hard."
"All right," Miroku said after a moment. "I understand that. But... Sesshoumaru?"
"Yeah, why couldn't we use someone less scary?" Shippo frowned. "I can't think of anyone else, but I'm sure there's got to be someone less... creepy."
"I agree that he can probably find Inuyasha," Sango said thoughtfully. "He does have an uncanny habit of turning up, after all. But... what's to keep him from just killing Inuyasha? Isn't that his ultimate goal?" Kagome buried her face in her hands. Sango swore at herself and put an arm around Kagome's shoulders while Shippo patted Kagome's knee anxiously. "I'm sorry, Kagome-chan, I'm just trying to consider all the angles."
"Believe me," Kagome said, muffled by her hands. "This... if there were any other way I could think of, I wouldn't do this."
"I trust your judgment." Miroku opened four cups and poured the boiling water into them carefully. "I just want to know why you think Sesshoumaru won't simply slaughter us all for our insolence."
"He wants Tetsusaiga." Kagome closed her hand over the familiar worn hilt on the ground next to her. "More than that, he wants to take it away from Inuyasha." She took a breath. "If... he finds Tetsusaiga when Inuyasha doesn't have it because... if Inuyasha doesn't have it because he's...." She stopped, unable to bring herself to say the words.
Sango squeezed her shoulders gently. "If he just finds it...?"
"It won't be the same. That's what I'm hoping, anyway."
Miroku handed one cup to Sango and another to Kagome. Shippo accepted his and began to eat noisily. "So, let me get this right. You're hoping that he'll help us find Inuyasha so... he can kill Inuyasha later?"
"...Basically." Kagome accepted the food tiredly.
"I don't suppose you have anything else in the way of persuasion," Sango said.
"Yes," she said, more softly. "I've thought about it and I've decided there's only one thing I can persuade him with."
"Dare I ask what?" Miroku said.
Kagome raised her head, eyes glinting. "If he doesn't help us, I'm going to kill him."
A profound silence fell on the clearing. Shippo stopped slurping noodles to gawk at Kagome, while both Miroku and Sango paused with their chopsticks halfway to their mouths. "I'm sorry," Sango said finally. "Did you just say....?" Kagome nodded.
"How?" breathed Miroku. "Kagome-sama, I know your powers have made remarkable advances, but...."
Kagome set the noodle cup aside. She reached down to her quiver, withdrew an arrow, and held it up. The point began to glow a brilliant blue. Shippo scrambled off Kagome's lap and into Sango's, watching Kagome with huge eyes. "You'll seal him," Sango said.
The rings on Miroku's shakujou jangled softly as he twirled the staff between his hands, thinking. "Not to cast doubt on your abilities, but.... Sesshoumaru is powerful. Do you believe you'll be able to overpower him?"
She smiled grimly, eyes fixed on the arrow's tip. "I don't need him to stay asleep for fifty years. Just long enough for me to kill him."
Miroku stopped twirling his staff to stare at Sango. She gazed back, hazel eyes wide with worry. "I..." Miroku cleared his throat. "I didn't know you knew the sealing spell."
Kagome slid the arrow back into her quiver. "I do now."
He was so tired. Everything ached. His muscles, his hands, his feet, his heart... everything. The forgetful oblivion was consuming him more often now. There had been several occasions where he often woke up in a different place, unsure of how he'd gotten there or what he'd done. Only the lack of blood underneath his claws reassured him. He wasn't sure why it reassured him. Part of him howled for it: the scent, the power, the knowledge that he was the strong one, the one who survived.
Her eyes always stopped him. Sometimes they were dark and sad, sometimes happy and smiling. He did not want her to find him one day crouched low over the body of a man, blood coating his hands and mouth. But that inevitability was drawing closer and closer. Today -- yesterday? -- he'd found himself crouched in a tree, watching villagers move around in a village like hundreds he'd seen. But this time he'd watched with a predator's eyes, calculating and planning. Perhaps that weak one, the one who limped. Or that old one sitting by the well. Pruning them would strengthen the village.
Don't. He'd heard her. He could have sworn, for a flicker of time, that she stood behind him hands gentle on his shoulders, in his hair. Please. Don't do it. He could almost smell her.
But she wasn't there, wasn't going to be there. Wasn't there someone else she wanted? You're not him. Another image twisted through his mind hard on those hated words: her face, only paler and sadder, a white haori dyed the scarlet of his and darker by her own blood, implacable eyes, and the flash of an arrow in morning sunlight. The darkness welled up in his mind and he fled into it, away from her eyes and the knowledge that he'd failed her once again.
Kagura watched the sleeping group through the screen of trees, tapping her fan thoughtfully against her lower lip. This was Inuyasha's group, but... where was the hanyou? That was certainly the brat's sword that strange human girl was curled up around, but there was no sign of him. And what were they doing this far into Sesshoumaru's territory? The wind youkai blew out an irritable breath. I have far better things to do than indulge Naraku's paranoia. Especially when I don't want Sesshoumaru to find me lurking around here.
She shot a look at the small, pale girl standing quietly next to her. "You're sure there's no sign of Inuyasha."
Kanna shook her head slowly. "I can't catch a glimpse of him at all."
"Then we're done here," Kagura said, reaching up to pull a feather from her hair.
"That girl, though..."
Kagura paused before her fingers closed on her adornment. "Girl? What?"
"That girl," Kanna said dreamily. "Kagome."
Kagura folded her arms. "What about her?"
"She has two faces in the mirror."
Kanna looked up at Kagura. "She has two faces."
"Show me." Kanna lifted the mirror and Kagura stooped, peering into it. She saw Kagome's face, calm and composed in sleep, but super-imposed over it....
"I'll be damned." Kagura straightened slowly. Did something happen to that creepy bitch? It's about time.... "What does this mean?"
Kanna shook her head slowly, white hair brushing her shoulders. "I don't know. I've never seen it before."
Kagura tapped her fan against her lips again, ruby eyes narrowing in thought. Naraku will want to know this. But.... "Come on, Kanna. We need to go look for that miko construct." She reached up and pulled the feather from her hair. First I'll make sure that walking clay pot is gone. But I'm certain... Naraku will want to know.
I've got to make a play
To make my lover stay
So what would an angel say
The devil wants to know